County water agencies and a tribal government have introduced a new plan that brings dam removal on the Eel River closer to reality, according to CalTrout. This initiative comes as a response to PG&E’s decision to remove century-old dams on the upper Eel River.
Located northeast of Ukiah, Scott and Cape Horn Dam have stood for over a century. However, hydropower operations were suspended in 2021 due to equipment failures. These dams, considered unstable, hinder fish passage to a devastating affect.
Removing the Potter Valley Project’s dams would release the Eel River, connecting crucial habitats for salmon and steelhead and making it California’s longest free-flowing river.
The Mendocino County Inland Water and Power Commission, the Round Valley Indian Tribes, and the Sonoma County Water Agency collaboratively submitted the proposal to PG&E. This move follows PG&E’s announcement earlier this year about decommissioning the Potter Valley Project, including the removal of Scott and Cape Horn dams. These dams have long posed challenges for the native salmon and steelhead populations due to blocked access to essential habitats.
PG&E is expected to present a draft decommissioning plan to federal regulators by November. In this context, the company invited entities to express interest in acquiring parts of the project’s facilities, including the inter-basin diversion infrastructure.
“This proposal represents progress on broader discussions between Russian River and Eel River stakeholders—two dams being removed, PG&E paying their fair share as they exit the basin, and Russian River water interests paying for water and water infrastructure associated with a diversion of Eel River water,” said CalTrout Executive Director Curtis Knight. “We will continue to engage in a collaborative and inclusive process to work out the details and address deficiencies in this proposal.”
While the proposal marks progress, crucial details remain unresolved. These include finalizing the design of the diversion structure, determining the timing and rate of diversions, assessing their potential impact on the Eel River, and clarifying who will bear the costs of building, operating, and maintaining new diversion facilities.
The Potter Valley Project includes Eel River dams, a diversion tunnel, and a powerhouse. PG&E’s expired license for the operation prompted the company to plan a decommissioning strategy, which includes the removal of in-water facilities.
This proposal signifies an important shift in acknowledging the priority of Eel River watershed recovery for ongoing water diversion efforts. It’s a step towards restoring the Eel River’s natural flow, which is essential for the survival of salmon and steelhead populations.